LONDON (Reuters) - Five times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has clarified comments about how he had felt torn to be racing in ‘poor’ India during the years when the country hosted a grand prix.
The Mercedes driver had said this week, in discussing new venues like Vietnam, that he would like more grands prix in places with ‘real racing history’ such as Europe and the United States.
“I’ve been to Vietnam before and it is beautiful,” he had told the BBC.
“I’ve been to India before to a race which was strange because India was such a poor place yet we had this massive, beautiful grand prix track made in the middle of nowhere. I felt very conflicted when I went to that grand prix.”
The 33-year-old Briton took to social media on Thursday, saying he had noticed some people had been upset by his comments.
“My reference was that a grand prix there felt strange to drive past homeless people and then arrive in a huge arena where money was not an issue,” explained Hamilton on Instagram and Twitter.
“They spent hundreds of millions on that track that is now never used. That money could have been spent on schools or homes for those in need.
“When we did have the race, nobody came because it was too expensive most likely or no interest. However I have met some amazing Indian fans,” added Hamilton, who won his fifth title in Mexico last month.
Some of those Indian fans had responded to Hamilton’s initial comments by pointing out the country’s fast-growing economy was now the world’s sixth largest.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said Hamilton’s earlier words and meaning had been “spun out of context”.
“He spoke with empathy about India and the painful contrast between wealth and poverty that we face while travelling the globe as sporting ambassadors,” the Austrian said in a statement issued by the reigning champions.
“He did not criticise the nation and his words were those of a thoughtful and considered champion.”
India, the world’s second most populous nation after China, hosted three grands prix at the Buddh International circuit south of the capital New Delhi from 2011-13.
All three were won by German driver Sebastian Vettel, then champion with Red Bull.
The race was dropped from 2014 due to a number of factors, including a tax dispute and bureaucratic hurdles faced by teams.
The little-used circuit has since hosted a number of domestic championship races, and been used by car manufacturers for track days, but is widely seen as an expensive ‘white elephant’.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Jon Boyle and Toby Davis